Pond Hoppin'

Outdoor skating in southwest Montana.

Sharp blades scrape against hard ice as you push with one leg and glide with the other. Crisp air prickles your face. Sliding along a smooth, crystalline surface, it feels like you could continue forever. From swirling in slow, lazy circles to informal pick-up hockey games, skating conjures Norman Rockwell images and offers a simple, inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors.

Lack of crowds and pretension are part of the appeal of skating. You’re unlikely to find GoPro-wearing bro-brahs documenting their “sick line” or ego-loaded dudettes raving about their Strava stats, so it’s a refreshing break from the gung-ho Bozeman scene. Plus, it’s straightforward. Theoretically, any frozen body of water can become a skating rink. With numerous ponds throughout Bozeman neighborhoods and in the mountains, options for pond skating are endless.

Prepping the Pond
Begin by removing snow from the ice. Shovels and brooms will do the trick; a snow-blower is even better. It’s important to clear snow before it begins to melt, as melting snow will ruin the ice surface. With mini-topography of lumps and knobs, pond skating can be a bumpy ride, so pouring water on the ice can help create a smooth, glassy surface.

What to Bring
You don’t have to sacrifice a month’s rent to go pond skating. Any pair of skates will get you started, from an old set buried in your closet to a used pair from the pawn shop or a secondhand store. Wear winter clothing, dress in layers, and bring a helmet if you think your game may get rowdy. Assessing the safety of the ice is critical, so bring a cordless power drill to measure the ice’s depth. 

The biggest concern is making sure the ice is stable. To be on the safe side, choose ice that is at least three to five inches thick. Test the ice by drilling through the surface using a cordless drill. Ice thickness can vary, even across a small pond, so be sure to drill several holes.

Clear blue or green ice is likely to be strong enough for skating. Dark ice indicates the presence of water and thin ice. Cracks, fissures, and slush on top of the surface are signs of instability. If you’re skating bigger ponds, take a rope and ice pick, and never skate alone.  

Where to Go
Bozeman Neighborhood Shuffle
Begin your skating odyssey by visiting one of the ponds scattered throughout Bozeman. Several loosely organized groups clear neighborhood ponds each year, offering winter recreation within walking distance for many Bozemanites. Thanks to the Main Street to the Mountains trail system, you can walk or fatbike from pond to pond, checking out several spots in an afternoon.

The pond in Sundance Springs, Meyers Lake in Valley West Park, and Bozeman Pond get regular love from their respective neighborhoods. For a true long-track speedskating experience, visit the 400-meter oval on Cattail Lake off Davis Lane, near Costco.

Paradise Valley Skate and Soak.
Located in Paradise Valley just north of Corwin Springs, Cutler Lake offers skatersa day-long escape from Boz Angeles. Glide aimlessly beneath the mountains, or join one of the regular Saturday hockey games. End your day with a pitstop at Chico Hot Springs to soak and grab some grub at the Poolside Grille.

Hockey on Harrison
Another skate-and-soak two-for-one? You betcha. Head down to Harrison Lake and take in spectacular views of the Spanish Peaks and Tobacco Roots as you dance across the frozen water. The lake is quite large, and you should have no problem sharing the space with ice fishermen. On your way back, swing through Norris and warm your bones at the hot springs, or alternatively, head up through Three Forks and stop for a steak at Sir Scott's Oasis.

Join the MT Ice Buds and Wild Ice Montana Facebook groups to learn more about wild skating throughout Big Sky Country.